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Clean technology entrepreneurs go through bootcamp in West Michigan

Grand Valley State University recently was the site of the first entrepreneurship "bootcamp" in the Midwest focusing on "green technology."

According to one of the organizers, Tim Streit of Huron River Ventures, "green technology" (also referred to as clean technology) is a specialized sector of technology focused on tech solutions that enable businesses to use less energy through efficiencies or to create energy from alternative sources.

For Streit, this type of event is another piece in the rapidly emerging "startup culture" in West Michigan. Though his seed venture fund, Huron River Ventures, is based in Ann Arbor, Streit spends a great deal of time in West Michigan and is very positive when it comes to the entrepreneurial scene here.

"It's a very exciting market with lots of opportunities," he says. "With all the battery companies that are coming to west Michigan, the area is developing many competitive advantages and a core knowledge in that important sector."

The week-long bootcamp was primarily targeted at university researchers and had attendance from all over the state. The event was co-organized by Growth Capitol Network and supported by various local sponsors.

Streit is optimistic that events like this, when combined with investors, mentors and education, will only add to the entrepreneurial renaissance that many organizations in West Michigan are nurturing.

For information about the services provided by Huron River Ventures and to learn more about green technology opportunities, you can visit their website here.

Source: Tim Streit, Huron River Ventures
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor 

Ideomed moves forward with Abriiz, a web-based tool to manage chronic asthma

Abriiz has hit several milestones since our March profile and is "making a real difference in lives" while still in product development, says Keith Brophy, president. "We have about 15 families engaged in a focus study, providing feedback and survey responses. Our team is analyzing the feedback and revising the application," he says.

Brophy says the work with Abriiz is similar to other tech projects he has been involved with, but creating a solution within the healthcare system has added multiple complexities.

"There is a wide degree of variability of how families cope with asthma," he says. "Our solution has to have an extreme focus on detail and fit smoothly into the lifestyle and flow of life. There has to be a relationship between our users, stakeholders and the software."

Expanding on the importance of the "extreme focus" needed, Brophy outlines the multiple relationships involved with asthma care: patient, family, teachers, nurses, physicians and other caregivers.  

To address this complexity, Brophy relies on his expert team (currently seven staff members), external vendors and software developers, and an advisory board, which includes Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

The software application of Abriiz is based on research into behavioral change. Brophy identifies the "four pillar approach" that his team is taking with the development: education (on asthma) incentives (for adherence), reminders (scheduled dosages) and motivation, which Brophy stresses as being critical. There needs to be a "nurse or coach on the shoulder of the asthma patient with ongoing friendly encouragement," he says.

In September, Abriiz will be carrying out a year-long pilot program in rural Georgia where asthma is a significant issue to explore the educational element in more detail.

To learn more about Abriiz, you can visit their website here.

Source: Keith Brophy, Ideomed
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

Atomic Object's new software group offers alternative career path

Who creates products that are all around, but no one sees?

No, it's not a riddle. But it is the reality of the work done by embedded software developers, a specialty career that has a local champion in Atomic Object (AO).

AO's Carl Erickson explains that companies with software needs typically have two choices: hire someone on staff or employ a contractor from a staffing firm. Both options have pros and cons for the company as well as the developer.
Sensing an opportunity to eliminate many of the "cons" associated with those two options, AO created an embedded software group within their firm that provides value to both the client and the developer.

From a client's perspective, Erickson explains, they get a long-term relationship with a talented, well-rounded developer "embedded" onsite who brings "AO's reputation, technical expertise (especially in agile software practices) and training experience" to the client.

For developers, they receive all the personnel benefits and training of being an AO employee along with a career path that is different from a typical software developer.

Scott Miller, VP of the embedded group at AO, feels that biggest difference between their embedded developers and a contractor from a staffing agency is the strength of the AO culture that the individual brings into a company. "Our embedded software engineer not only has an expertise in agile development, but is very well-rounded and is invested in seeing that a product is finished and implemented," Miller says.

Miller also explains that the infusion of an outside perspective from an innovative development culture like AO can oftentimes help their clients' existing teams achieve better results.

To learn more about the role of embedded developers, AO has a series of blogs that can be accessed through their site here.

Source: Carl Erickson and Scott Miller, Atomic Object
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

GR GiveCamp encourages nonprofits to think big

GR GiveCamp is announcing their second GiveCamp weekend to be held in Grand Rapids from Oct. 21-23, 2011

GR GiveCamp is where selected nonprofits get to tap into the talented network of the Grand Rapids tech community and have a specific project developed over the course of a weekend.

"It's a collaboration between the local IT community and the nonprofit community that addresses profound technological needs that exist, especially as funding and volunteer management moves online," explains Adam Bird, one of the committee members helping to organize.

Bird elaborates that the power information management and technology goes far beyond the development of a website and online presence. Through the work of the volunteer IT professionals at GR GiveCamp, non-profits can think bigger than a mere online presence and begin building the infrastructure and databases that can help better serve their clients, manage their volunteers, make decisions and ultimately tell their stories to the donor base.

Not only does participating in GiveCamp make sense strategically for nonprofits, but the opportunity represents a tremendous cost savings. Bird indicates that the work they can provide, especially involving infrastructure, can easily cost between $20,000-$50,000 should an organization contract out the work. These are resources that Bird says only the large, national organizations can typically afford.

The deadline for non-profits to apply is Sept. 1. To learn more about GR GiveCamp and how you can become involved as a volunteer, sponsor or participant, you can visit here:

Source: Adam Bird, GR GiveCamp
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

Rapid Development Group adds programming talent

Leveraging its distributed workforce, technical skills and strong word-of-mouth, Rapid Development Group has had an increase business that allowed them to double in size, adding three programmers in the last several months.

According to Mike Bopp, a developer and charter employee, Rapid Development Group was started in 2009 after an agency that he worked at along with Brett and Jonathan Chaffer closed its doors.

After that experience, they decided they "very much wanted to go against the agency model" with their business.

Besides have a wide range of technical competencies and a lean operating model from its distributed workforce, Bopp says one of their keys to success is that the programmers are also the sales force.

"When you talk to us, you are talking directly to a programmer," he says, which he cites as being a much better way to understand customer needs and implement cost-effective solutions.

Bopp says one of their "go-to" skills is their expertise with Drupal, a framework for web development.

"Drupal is very scalable and developer-centric," he says. "It helps get websites up quicker."

For his part, Bopp works out of The Factory (38 W. Fulton, Ste. 320), a co-working space in downtown Grand Rapids where he also recruited a couple of their new hires.

To contact the Rapid Development Group, you can visit their site here.

Source: Mike Bopp, Rapid Development Group
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

Conga looking to line up West Michigan user groups

It's no secret that technology plays a role in almost every business in the world. What might not be so well known is the growing West Michigan community of developers, programmers, designers and engineers that provide the expertise and creativity that makes technology functional to the end user.

As evidence of this growth, you need to look no further than the increasing number of user groups that are active in West Michigan.

For the lay person, user groups are formal and informal organizations that are formed around a shared interest in programming, software and technology. They exist to help individuals learn from each other and also "to learn from outside speakers" according to Ben Rousch, one of the organizers of a new site, Conga.

Conga's mission is to coordinate the various user groups by providing a central calendar with meeting dates, speakers and special events within the industry.

"The tech world moves very fast," Rousch says. "To keep up with these changes, you really have three options: learn on your own, read or join a user group."

Before Conga, Rousch says many of the user groups existed "in silos" without much formal communication between each other. With Conga, Rousch and others involved in this initiative hope to be able to consolidate all this activity. He encourages anyone involved with a user group to list the events on the site.

Although involved in the I.T. sector for over 10 years, Rousch did not attend his first user group until 2009 when the the economy left him a bit nervous and decided he needed to network more. Since then, he heartily recommends this type of networking for anyone involved in the industry.  "The learning experience is cheaper than other alternatives" he says. "(It is) typically the "price of a beer. Everyone is very friendly and everyone is welcome."

To check out Conga, you can visit their website here.

Source: Ben Rousch, Conga
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

New organization seeks to catalyze the mobile technology scene in West Michigan

Mobile is Doug Lang's world. As a professional pilot, he flies all over the country. As an entrepreneur, Lang co-founded Red Pigeon, a marketing company with a focus on mobile technology. Now his latest mobile venture is as an organizer of the Grand Rapids chapter of Mobile Monday.

Mobile Monday is an international organization that works with local, regional, national and global businesses within the mobile ecosystem.  

According to Lang, the organization has three objectives.

"First, there is networking within the mobile space," he says.

Lang is quick to point out that this goes beyond service providers like Verizon and Sprint. "Marketers, developers, engineers and carriers are all involved," he says. "It's all encompassing."

The other two objectives of the organization are education and global outreach. "We want an exchange of this information from a global perspective," he says.

From the perspective of being a professional pilot involved in mobile marketing through Red Pigeon, Lang sees the increased demand for mobile tools growing everyday. "It's the space where everything is going," he says. "I travel extensively through major cities and see this technology being used in many ways."

Although Grand Rapids "is not quite there yet" in comparison to other major cities with the use of mobile technology, it is very close and "ready for a big leap forward."

The theme of the first meeting is: "4G what does it mean to me?" at the JW Marriott on Monday, July 11 with networking beginning at 5:30 p.m. This event is being co-sponsored by Verizon Wireless.

For more details you can visit their site here.

Source Doug Lang, Red Pigeon and Mobile Monday
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

Agile development drives a new product launch to be featured at NeoCon 2011

Listening closely to what their customers were saying has paid dividends for the Grand Rapids-based office of 20-20 Technologies.   

After 18 months of development, the company will showcase its new product, 20-20 Visual Impression, at the NeoCon show in Chicago June 13-15.

According to Cindy Maples, product manager, 20-20 Visual Impression will "bring 2-D pictures to life" by allowing dealers to showcase a high quality rendered picture of what their products would look like in an office setting.

"The problem was that everyone wanted to see what the products would like during development," Maples says. "Customers were buying external 3D rendering software programs which were expensive, time consuming and cumbersome for users."

Besides a better user experience, their new product serves as a companion tool for existing programs used within the office furniture industry during the development process.

Maples is proud of the agile development process they used during product development.

20-20 Visual Impression is created on a 'voice of the customer study' and other end-user feedback, including previewing the technology at NeoCon in 2010.  

The Grand Rapids office of 20-20 Technologies was founded more than 20 years ago as CAP (Computer Aided Planning) and now has 45 individuals employed.

This year, the Grand Rapids office has hired several individuals in technical support, sales, IT and accounting and has plans to add additional hires including R&D (software developers).

To learn more about 20-20 Technologies, you can visit their website here or visit them at NeoCon.

Source: Cindy Maples, 20-20 Technologies
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

Startup focuses on the issue of money and relationships

For Ryan Montgomery and Jeff Bell, co-founders of Spend Wisely and Chext, the "why" of their business is more important than the "what."

"There is big problem in relationships with money. It can be hard to solve but it is important," Montgomery says. Montgomery further explains that better communication and better planning about expenditures is one simple way to enhance financial literacy, which in turn decreases the thorny issues that can come with joint checking accounts.

The "what" is the duos service. Chext is a tool for couples that share a banking or checking account. With Chext, couples use a texting service and website to keep track of not only how much money is in their account, but also a forecast of how much money will be left after paying monthly bills.  

"Whenever you spend money, you text it in and then you will be able to view each other's transactions on a calendar," says Bell. The pair hopes this information will also lead to better decision making.

The potential of such a service and the talent in the team also caught the attention of Momentum-MI, which selected the duo to be one of the companies for their 2011 program.

Both Montgomery and Bell credit the companies they currently work with, Mutually Human Software and Mindscape-HM (respectively), for their support during the 12-week Momentum program, allowing both entrepreneurs to "go all-in" with the development of their concept.

For more information about Chext, you can visit their website here.

Source: Jeff Bell and Ryan Montgomery, Chext
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

The Michigan Lean Startup Conference puts the customer first

Momentum-MI enters their third year with a new approach to the intensive mentoring provided to the Internet startups selected to participate in their incubator program.

For 2011, the program will kick off with the The Michigan Lean Startup Conference. According to Amanda Chocko, "Lean Startup" is an entrepreneurial, business development approach with a focus on the  customer development process versus the more traditional approach focusing on writing a comprehensive business plan.

Although Momentum is primarily looking to fund technology-based startups, Chocko indicates the conference would be valuable to individuals involved or interested in the startup process -- "educators, attorneys, investors, or anyone interested in bringing new products to markets," she says.

The conference will feature keynote speaker Eric Ries, the creator of the Lean Startup Methodology, as well as several other experts in the lean startup process.

Besides using the lean methodology, Momentum has also reached out to local colleges by offering opportunities for students, staff and faculty to participate in the Momentum program. At the time of the article, both Grand Rapids Community College and Hope College have committed to participate.

The conference takes place May 19 at Grand Valley State University's Eberhard Center. To register for the conference, you can access the site here.

Source: Amanda Chocko, Momentum-MI
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

Human resource strategies help spur creativity and growth

The Michigan Business and Professional Association (MBPA) recently announced their list of the 101 Best and Brightest Companies to work for in West Michigan.   

For one organization -- Mindscape at Hanon McKendry, a web-design and marketing firm -- the recognition only reinforces their view that human resource management is an important strategic decision.

According to Ellen Winterburn, director of HR, this accolade is the result of a comprehensive human resource policy that addresses not only work-life balance, but also empowerment, creativity and employee appreciation.

"We've found that giving employees a work/life balance is really critical in getting the best work out of our employees," she says. "A number of our team members are able to work four ten-hour days with two four-day weekends a month."  

Besides the scheduling flexibility, Winterburn also explains that the they are always searching out ways to share information internally.   

"We do this within a very open format at our monthly meetings and then through technology tools, like our "idea generator," which helps us manage our new idea projects," she explains. "We also take an annual long weekend trip to Florida to celebrate our successes and plan out the upcoming year."

Winterburn reports that Mindscape has grown from 11 employees at the end of 2009 to 21 at the end of 2010. Currently, their team is looking for individuals with PHP and .net programming skills and content managers who can create online content for their clients.

The companies that have been recognized by MBPA will now vie for awards in various categories. From that list, there will be one organization chosen as "best of the best" at a May luncheon at the Pinnacle Center.

Source:  Ellen Winterburn, Mindscape at HM
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

Grand Rapids home to innovative online asthma management solution

Keith Brophy is a very enthusiastic about the future health care solutions that are being developed in West Michigan as the result of the "energy of the medical mile" and the application of technology.

Brophy is especially enthused when there is an extremely compelling business model when the ability to operate a profitable and sustainable business is combined with a product and service that will be touching lives.

Brophy, a veteran of the west Michigan technology scene is CEO of Ideomed and is very excited about their first product, Abriiz.com, an online platform and mobile application that Brophy states is "the world's first holistic pediatric asthma solution".

Concerning asthma, Brophy cites several statistics; it's the number one pediatric condition with over eight million cases in the US.  There are over two million emergency room visits due to asthma and over four thousand deaths.  

"The interesting aspect about asthma is that is often challenging for parents and kids to weave daily adherence to prescribed medication into their lives. By some research, over fifty percent of emergency room visits could be prevented if the patient had taken medication".

Through Abriiz, registered users will have access to both a web-based platform and mobile application that will assist in reminding users about their medication needs along with providing an ongoing record for caretakers.

Several of the online components of Abriiz are still evolving and Brophy states they are would like get more feedback from families that have children with chronic asthma.  Brophy asks for families to contact him at keith.brophy@abriiz.com for more information on this program.

Source:  Keith Brophy, Ideomed
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

Wanted: Business and technology-savvy talent

Grand Rapids-based IT consulting firm, C/D/H, is growing, having added nine new hires in the past eight months. They are continuing to look for more talent.

According to Sarah Woodruff, marketing manager, there is an increased demand from in the marketplace for their services as "businesses are more positive and budgets are opening up."

Woodruff indicates it was difficult for awhile to find qualified and talented people, but the talent pool is deeper now.

"Our staff needs to have technical expertise and business acumen," she says. "They need to be able to have a conversation about technology and business issues."  

Woodruff indicates this "well-rounded" skill set is critical as their firm views IT as tool for innovation and "not just a cost center."

For individuals looking to build a career around technology, Woodruff recommends that anyone coming out of school to secure an internship. She also recommends doing "a lot of reading," citing the need "to be able to communicate technology in business terms."

For information on career opportunities at C/D/H, you can visit their site here.

Source: Sarah Woodruff. C/D/H
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

Built in West Michigan. Technology to help children thrive.

There's a new kid online and it wants to help children become more successful by identifying their natural learning and personality styles and providing parents and teachers with insights into what can make children thrive.

Kidtelligent is the new online business launched by Roger Jansen along with partners Atomic Object, and Jeff and Craig Tiggleman.

Development of Kidtelligent began in 2008 and has its foundation in over 30 years of research, according to Jansen.

"There is existing research on how kids from a wide range of backgrounds thrive," states Jansen. "Wouldn't it be helpful if parents knew this information?"

The website, built by Atomic Object, is designed to be simple and to provide value within the first 10 minutes. Targeting children ages 7-13 and their parents, the initial experience starts with a survey which resulting in a profile. Parents and educators are then directed to several tips and techniques targeted toward that specific personality type.

Besides the insights from the survey, there are significant online features built into the site, which will allow users to share their experiences, building both content and knowledge.

Carl Erickson, president of Atomic Object, is takes pride in the process leading up to the launch.

"A lot of people don't think this type partnership and development of a web-based business can happen in West Michigan," he says. "The launch of Kidtelligent is a great example of the opportunities that exist in this area for technology entrepreneurs to start a business, despite contrary opinions on the lack of the resources. It looks like a start-up coming out of Silicone Valley."

To learn more about Kidtelligent, you can visit  their website here.

Source:  Roger Jansen, Kidtelligent and Carl Erickson, Atomic Object
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

Atomic Object on the prowl for talent

Only months after winning the Alfred. P. Sloan award for business excellence in workplace flexibility, Atomic Object (AO) will be making a major hiring push in 2011.

With their revenue increasing by 20% over 2009, annual sales of over $4.1M and several large contracts including a two-year, $500,000+ contract renewal from the World Bank, AO will be aggressively spreading the word about their hiring needs and the cool workplace at their Wealthy St. SE headquarters.

According to Carl Erickson, co-founder of AO, they will be looking to add 10 new people, primarily designers and developers.  

"We could of grown even more last year," he indicates, a year in which he had to turn away work because their team was maxed out.

Mike Marsiglia, VP, highlights the mobile applications market as a significant factor in their growth along with the increased customer demand from bringing design services in-house, which "allowed us to build better products."

Both Erickson and Marsiglia are quick to point out their agile software development process as another reason for their success. Agile development "is different than traditional approaches to software development," says Erickson. "The customer is very involved from the beginning and the product is developed before their eyes."

This approach is very attractive to entrepreneurs and he highlights the recent launches of Bloomfire, Kidtelligent, Covenant Retirement Communities and Catalog Choice as examples of "building smaller and releasing faster."

AO plans to spread the message about employment opportunities through their blog as well as using a national search through targeted channels. For more information on AO, you can visit their website here.

Sources: Carl Erickson and Mike Marsiglia, Atomic Object
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor
105 high tech Articles | Page: | Show All
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